Vampire Weekend: Adventures in Modern Sonics

May 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson


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On the working relationship of Batmanglij, Reictshaid and Koenig.

Batmanglij: “Ariel and I had worked on music together and we’re really close friends. It was a friendship thing. We’ve also spent a lot of time just hanging out. On this record it was such an extended period of songwriting and we were working in different ways, and one thing that was unique about it is, there were a lot of songs I started on my own and I would start with writing music and even production ideas and sending them to Ezra, and he would write on top of them. There’s always been a couple of songs that have been that way, but on this record it really became a huge part of the writing process. So it was nice to have another voice in there.”

On the song “Obvious Bicycle.”

Batmanglij: “That song started with a piece of music I made that has these very, very hectic drums; they were super-complicated intricate polyrhythmic drums and piano. I sent it to Ezra—actually it was something I sent to Ezra before we finished Contra, and then, over the course of the Contra tour, he was writing on top of that music, and it was one of the first things we got together and worked on when we started working on this new album.

“We kept refining it, we added a bridge. I came up with a counter-melody for the chorus, but we also knew it wasn’t quite right. Something about it wasn’t really gelling. Eventually what we found was we didn’t need the hectic drums anymore, so we brought in a sample from a Jamaican nyabinghi [drum], so that’s what you’re hearing there. It’s the only recording sample on the record. At one point, we were really frustrated and Ariel said, ‘Listen, if you guys believe in the song, why don’t you perform it live [as a duo] and see what happens?’ We didn’t end up using that recording, but it showed us we should pursue a minimalist path for the songs and let it breathe.”

On writing “Diane Young.”

Batmanglij: “That started with the idea of a punk song with saxophone. As for the crazy drums, I was working on it and not really thinking about the decisions I was making—I was cutting up 16th notes and copying them and pasting them at random and not really thinking twice about it. I didn’t even think it would be part of Vampire Weekend, to be honest. But then I sent it Ezra and he started writing on top of it and now, when we play it live, Chris [Tomson] uses a sample pad in conjunction with his drum set, and he triggers some of the samples in the song, but we’re not playing to a click. So, some of those hectic moments are being triggered.”

Rechtshaid: “Some of the drums you call ‘impossible’ shockingly are a real human being, and some of the simple stuff isn’t. Rostam has a good friend in New York, Jeff Curtin, who did some recording and got these crazy, distorted drum fills and loops and stuff happening that was sort of to a tempo—or had a tempo to it. And then there was this song that was kind of like a basic rockabilly song with an emphasis on lyrics. Then, from that point, it was putting different things together and playing around, and anytime something sounded good that was great.

“Step one would be completing a structure of a song. Step two would be fooling around with an arrangement. Step three was getting it to sound like something, and step four was assessing whether that something was familiar, in which case throw it away and start over.”

Batmanglij: “The reverb on the vocal was something we actually dialed down. From the very first take that was an element of the version we recorded in my apartment. Same with the saxophone, which is real saxophone, but it’s been pitch-shifted because we were trying to fit it in the best part of Ezra’s vocal range. But the original beat that I sent him already had the drums sketched in place, and the saxophone I recorded in my apartment.”

On the strings and horns that appear here and there.

Batmanglij: “It’s a combination of real string players and Chamberlain strings. Like on ‘Everlasting Arms,’ I was very keen to have real string players, but Ezra and Ariel thought it was not necessary. They were right—it sounded better with chamberlain strings. But on others there are real strings. On ‘Don’t Lie,’ my string arrangement required about three different separate passes by the quartet because there were so many notes. We recorded the strings and horns at Vox [in L.A.].

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